TOKYO, Japan - Magic tricks and straight answers are all part of being Santa in Japan - at least according to Tokyo's Santa Claus Academy, which trains St. Nicks in a country with little Christian tradition and a Christmas that's far more retail than religion.
On a recent weekend, 88 Santa wannabes packed the school in Tokyo's fashionable Roppongi district for a crash course in how to behave as "Santa-san," as the man in red is known in Japan.
"There are many children who don't believe in Santa Claus anymore," said Masaki Azuma, head of the school. "So I said to myself, 'Let's bring Santa Claus back.'"
The morning session began with Azuma training students in the mindset of being Santa Claus, such as not to reply to anything unless addressed as "Santa-san," along with teaching them magic tricks, which Azuma recommends as a good ice-breaker for often shy tots.
The rest of the session was devoted to answering the difficult questions that children have a habit of posing, such as "My house doesn't have a chimney and we also have a security system, so how will you be able to come in and deliver my present?"
The academy's answer is that Santa, whose job is to deliver presents no matter what, will find a way. Also, the home security system should recognize him and let him in.
After this, the students dressed in their Santa outfits to stroll streets in the busy Omotesando district, exchanging high fives with shoppers and occasionally stopping to pose for pictures.
"Not only were we able to attract attention, we also interacted and made each other's days," said Kazuko Iida, who visits local preschools and retirement homes during the Christmas season.
Despite nearing 70, Azuma has vowed to press on with his school, believing it has a key role to fulfill.
"Even as times change, Santa Claus is a figure that needs to live in the hearts of everyone," he said.